Pushcart 2022 XLVI: Jeremiah Moss, “Open House” (non-fiction) from N+1 #36

N+1 Art by Amanda C. Mathis: Displacement
It reads like a personal essay if you don’t think about it too much, but it really is research based… there’s multiple section about Instagram and how it’s shaping this.… there’s a fair amount of sourcing, but he doesn’t do it in a really overt way where it’s a giant block quote…. It’s really outward looking, in some ways research reported but also personal. …. A lot of times fiction writers who are writing an essay, it’s got a very narrative frame, like “New person is moving in” and it’s not that at all, it’s much more complicated than that; he’s covering decades here, he’s not interested in one neighbor, he’s interested in thirty years of changing.

Justin St. Germain I’ll Find Myself When I’m Dead podcast (edited)

I’ve got to find time to listen to this podcast; it rambles a lot (as all podcasts do, that’s what people love about them, they aren’t speeches) but it contains so much info on different approaches to essay writing.

The essay in question is about gentrification, specifically in New York.

The Great Invasion began sometime in the late 1990s but didn’t really take shape until after September 11. That’s when the new people found the East Village. The new people, the emphatically normal, come from someplace else, the Midwest, the South, but that’s not what makes them invaders. Many of us come from someplace else. I come from someplace else. Move anywhere and you’re potentially interloping. So what is it? How can I talk about the new people and their superpower of invasion? I’m forever grappling with this question, reducing, stereotyping, and then struggling not to be reductive. What I keep coming back to is their apparent belief that their way of living belongs everywhere, that it should trickle down the ladder of power and fill every lower space, scouring and purifying as it goes. Spaces of queerness. Spaces of color. Spaces of marginalization. Spaces of This is our little scrap of somewhere, can’t you just let us have it, oh you who have everywhere? With good reason, colonization and Manifest Destiny are the enduring metaphors of gentrification.

It makes a great read, funny and poignant in turns, with recognizable characters and situations if you’ve lived in a neighborhood for any length of time. I’ve seen a lot of changes in my small city over the past twenty years, some good, some bad. And I do recognize the feeling of being swept out so the more desirable tenants can come in. I’m not sure it adds anything new to the topic; this has been going on forever in New York, traceable through a lot of literature set in the city with parents arriving here especially in the pre-war years and their kids breaking away from their traditions but returning to upgraded housing. But it’s a great way to remind people that the poor have lives and pasts and histories that matter, too, and maybe we should think twice before turning their buildings into condos and townhouses to build up the tax base.

The author is fascinating in himself. Jeremiah Moss is a pseudonym for his writing; Griffin Hansbury became a psychotherapist, writer, and activist whose blog is full of stories about people being pushed aside to make room for people who matter more.

I came in the early 1990s because it made sense for me to be here. I was a young, queer, transsexual poet, and where else would a young, queer, transsexual poet go but to the East Village? Back then the neighborhood still throbbed with its hundred years of counterculture, a dissident history going back to the early anarchists and feminists, up through the bohemians and Beats, the hippies and punks, the poets, queers, and transsexuals too. I had a pair of combat boots and an elite liberal arts education, thanks to a full ride of grants and work-study programs, but not much money. I hail from generations of peasants, washerwomen, and bricklayers, orphans raised by nuns, 12-year-old factory workers, icemen who sang opera while they slung frozen bricks, soldiers, hucksters, and bookmakers, thick-legged Italians and paper-skinned Irish Catholics, most of whom didn’t get to high school and not one of whom saw the inside of a college classroom. I had ambition but didn’t yet understand entitlement…. The East Village was full of people who were bruised like I was bruised, people who weren’t quite pulled together but were trying to make something interesting with their lives. I belonged here. In this neighborhood. In this crumbling tenement.

I find myself with little to say about the piece, mostly because the essay is clear and forceful. I’ll just leave it at that.

*  *  *     

  • The essay is available online at N+1 
  • Author’s website
  • The episode of the podcast I’ll Find Myself When I’m Dead referenced above can be found online; the discussion of this essay begins around 58:15

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